Speaking In Front Of People – how to survive an audience or interview panel

Standing up in front of people to speak off the cuff, being in an interview situation, or make a speech is one of the most common fears. It affects people with all levels of experience in any number of situations. The Graduate interviewing for their first job, the nervous bridegroom, the CEO or Director, the young person at school in a debating session, can all feel the pressure when there is an element of PERFORMANCE. It’s important to remember that even trained and experienced Actors get nervous and feel the adrenalin pumping. They can also suffer stage fright just like everyone else. Blanking out, sweating, going red, stuttering, rushing what you are saying just to get it over with are some of the symptoms of performance nerves.

Here are some simple ideas to take on board if you are in front of any kind of ‘audience’.

• The most important thing to remember when getting up in front of an audience or going to an interview is that NO ONE WANTS YOU TO FAIL. Listeners are prepared and happy to be engaged and to listen to what you are hoping to communicate. Having been in the position of interviewing many people for all sorts of positions, I know that when you meet a candidate you want them to be right for the job. You feel positive about meeting that person otherwise you wouldn’t be inviting them for an interview. It’s the same when people listen to a speech. They are on your side.

• Remember that you only need to be yourself. YOU ARE ENOUGH. This is a deceptively simply statement. Yes, it’s hard to relax, to not try too hard, to remain focussed and present in the moment. However, as human beings we are drawn to people who are AUTHENTIC and share themselves warts and all. We want to see people who are ok in their own skin. This doesn’t mean ‘perfect’. And what does ‘perfect’ mean anyway? Don’t think you need to be anyone else but you.

• Breathe. Try this simple exercise when you are feeling nervous. Say a few lines of anything. Use something you know well. As you speak and without doing anything new or different just NOTICE where you are breathing from. Often, inexperienced and nervous speakers will be breathing too high. In other words, when breathing in they will be getting their breath from the chest and not from the diaphragm. Place your hand on your diaphragm which is the area above your stomach and just below your sternum bone, located in the V shaped space between your ribs at the front. To feel where it is just say ‘Ha, Ha, Ha’ a few times and you will feel the powerful muscle which is the diaphragm pulsing as it pushes out breath. The louder you say it the larger the movement of the diaphragm. Breathe from what is your centre and you will automatically feel calmer. Added to this your voice will also have more resonance and power without even trying.

• Take your TIME. Don’t worry if when you begin speaking at the right pace, you feel you are going too slowly and boring people. The opposite is true. Audiences like to be drawn in and this takes longer than you might imagine. If you rush, an audience loses confidence and can drift off. Not rushing through makes it easier for you to keep up with yourself and what you are saying. When in doubt always go slower than you think you need to. Concentrate on what you want to get across rather than whether you are impressing people you will automatically pace yourself well.

•Don’t WORRY about being funny or interesting. Don’t WORRY if you fluff some words. If you speak with conviction and passion you will be compelling. People will be drawn in to what you are saying and they will relax. As human beings we are programmed to pick up the smallest signs that might tell us if someone is not being truthful or is trying to hide something. When we try too hard we come across as not being ourselves and it has the effect of making us appear more and not less unsure and convincing.

Before it’s your turn to get up in front of the audience or speak in front of an interview panel take a 5 minute break. Find somewhere quiet if you can. The toilet is fine…or waiting on the train platform! Even without a quiet place this effective exercise can be done anywhere and no one will even know you are doing it. It’s a great secret weapon against nerves and loss of focus due to stress.

Stand or sit, it doesn’t matter. Firstly, all you need to do is focus on one thing you notice in front of you. It can be anything. ‘I notice that rain puddle’ or ‘I notice the black car going past’ or ‘I notice the sky is blue’. Just notice something simple that you can easily see. Don’t think too hard, just notice it and say to yourself either in your head or out loud if you want to ‘I notice….’ Then do the same again but this time focus on yourself. Now focus on something physical that you notice about yourself like ‘I notice my left hand keeps twitching’ or ‘I notice I am breathing fast’. Just go from the outside world to your own physical world. You can do this for as long or as short a time as you want. That’s why it’s such a useful little tool. I guarantee that you will automatically start to centre yourself, stop the head spin and breathe more calmly. You won’t have to try to do it, it will just happen as a result of quietly focussing on the outer and the inner. Try it and if it works keep it stored in your pocket to use anytime you feel you need to calm yourself or to prepare for any situation you are feeling apprehensive about.

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